By Bob Hertzel
Looking at the West Virginia baseball program and its growth since Randy Mazey came on the scene as coach tells you that something is different.
What allowed this program that seemed content to just go through life in neutral to suddenly come alive?
Yes, there was that, but to be honest, this isn’t a team as talented as some of the teams it beats on a regular basis.
Certainly it helps when you have what you need and enjoy being where you are, but that is more part of the commitment from the school and the community that added to the overall atmosphere.
And that is really where we’re going with this.
What helped WVU take the extra step was the atmosphere that was created by Mazey, who is far more than just a baseball coach when it comes to the kids who play for him and who reside on the fringes, be they graduate assistants, assistant coaches, fans or even media.
What Mazey has been able to do is spin a team into a family, brothers in arms, so to speak.
It grows out of his personality and his beliefs, beginning, perhaps, with the involvement of his real family with the team.
Blessed with a wonderful baseball wife in Amanda Ross Mazey, who is the den mother to the team and the support upon which he leans, Mazey has brought her into the program along with his two children. In fact, his son serves as batboy and has become so much a part of the team that as the Mountaineers played in their first NCAA regional in 21 years, he had the WVU logo crafted into his hair.
Mazey, you see, was born for what he does.
I speak not without something to base my opinion on. I spent 30-plus years covering Major League Baseball with some very successful — and yes — very bad franchises … the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati, the Jim Leyland-led Pirates, the Yankees just as they were about to break out in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
In such a job, especially during that era, you became far more than just someone who asked questions and, as such, you came across the personas of those who played the game. If you learned one thing, there is a group of major league players with whom Mazey fits perfectly.
They are not the stars. Instead, on every successful baseball team I’ve ever been around, there have been the super subs, salt-of-the-earth baseball lifers who were fun to be around, good teammates and good baseball people.
I could name you so many of them … guys like Jimmy Stewart from the early Cincinnati Reds who was part of the deal that brought Joe Morgan to Cincinnati, likewise Pat Corrales, a catcher who was a backup to Johnny Bench and who became a long time baseball coach, manager and executive.
There were so many of this sort of player — Darrell Chaney, Doug Flynn, Tom Prince, Dann Bilardello, John Wehner — players who studied the game and, more than that, studied their teammates.
They could spin a tale and enjoyed telling it, charming those around them be they media, teammates or friends … but they knew their baseball better than the guys who surviving on pure talent.
Mostly, if you checked, they were the guy next door … they fished, like Mazey does; or hunted, golfed or enjoyed their families … mostly they laughed a lot and were favorites with managers … managers like Sparky Anderson or Leyland, a pair of baseball geniuses who weren’t very good players.
Mazey reminds me of them, a guy who lives and loves the game but understands that what makes it great is the personal relationships as much as the strategy and competition, who creates a family where once there was a team.
The family, of course, is the rock of our society, playing for each other and not for the headlines or the trophies or even the fortune that may be available down the road.
That is why WVU has grown into a ranked baseball program that figures to blossom as the years go by.
“This team will probably go down in history maybe as one of the best ever (at WVU) for what we accomplished this year,” Mazey said Sunday night moments after the season ended with a 12-8 loss to Wake Forest.
But he wasn’t just thinking of the team itself, for Mazey knows that what he’s built extends beyond the locker room.
“I think our guys showed a lot of heart, a lot of tenacity and there are Mountaineer fans everywhere super proud of our team,” Mazey said. “We made a lot of Mountaineer baseball fans that weren’t Mountaineer baseball fans prior to this year. This is a statement about our program, where it’s going and the direction it’s headed.
“We’ve got us a baseball program that we can be super proud of. We have a great facility, great administration and great fan support. This is not the end. This is the beginning of a great baseball program.”